CHAPTER I—THE START
After the spring day they had enjoyed, the falling night brought back the impression of winter, and they returned to dine before their fire, which was flaming with new branches. It was their last meal together; but they had some hours yet, and were not saddened.
After dinner, they recovered the sweet impression of spring again, out on the Pors-Even road; for the air was calm, almost genial, and the twilight still lingered over the land.
They went to see the family—for Yann to bid good-bye—and returned early, as they wished to rise with break of day.
The next morning the quay of Paimpol was crowded with people. The departures for Iceland had begun the day before, and with each tide there was a fresh fleet off. On this particular morning, fifteen vessels were to start with the Leopoldine, and the wives or mothers of the sailors were all present at the getting under sail.
Gaud, who was now the wife of an Icelander, was much surprised to find herself among them all, and brought thither for the same fateful purpose. Her position seemed to have become so intensified within the last few days, that she had barely had time to realize things as they were; gliding irresistibly down an incline, she had arrived at this inexorable conclusion that she must bear up for the present, and do as the others did, who were accustomed to it.
She never before had been present at these farewells; hence all was new to her. Among these women was none like her, and she felt her difference and isolation. Her past life, as a lady, was still remembered, and caused her to be set aside as one apart.
The weather had remained fine on this parting-day; but out at sea a heavy swell came from the west, foretelling wind, and the sea, lying in wait for these new adventurers, burst its crests afar.
Around Gaud stood many good-looking wives like her, and touching, with their eyes big with tears; others were thoughtless and lively; these had no heart or were not in love. Old women, threatened nearly by death, wept as they clung to their sons; sweethearts kissed each other; half-maudlin sailors sang to cheer themselves up, while others went on board with gloomy looks as to their execution.
Many sad incidents could be marked; there were poor luckless fellows who had signed their contracts unconsciously, when in liquor in the grog-shop, and they had to be dragged on board by force; their own wives helping the gendarmes. Others, noted for their great strength, had been drugged in drink beforehand, and were carried like corpses on stretchers, and flung down in the forecastles.
Gaud was frightened by all this; what companions were these for her Yann? and what a fearful thing was this Iceland, to inspire men with such terror of it?
Yet there were sailors who smiled, and were happy; who, doubtless, like Yann, loved the untrammelled life and hard fishing work; those were the sound, able seamen, who had fine noble countenances; if they were unmarried they went off recklessly, merely casting a last look on the lasses; and if they were married, they kissed their wives and little ones, with fervent sadness and deep hopefulness as to returning home all the richer.